On March 10, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed Executive Order 2016-03 – Establishing “Employment First” Policy and Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Pennsylvanians with a Disability. Governor Wolf set the tone by stating, “Pennsylvanians with a disability are valued members of society and all members of society deserve to have the opportunity to work…there is dignity in work…” The Order correctly notes that Pennsylvanians with a disability make-up a largely untapped labor pool. In fact, the unemployment rate for workers with disabilities is twice that of workers without disabilities. The new policy looks at it from both a business and advocacy perspective. Workers with disabilities are an asset to the workplace that can improve an employer’s bottom line.
“Employment First” is the policy that reflects the Commonwealth’s goal of making Pennsylvania a model state when it comes to creating a climate hospitable to workers with disabilities. Competitive integrated employment is the goal of the Order. Individuals will be compensated at the customary rate paid by employers for the same work performed by individuals who do not have a disability in an inclusive setting. The Order calls for the Secretaries of the Departments of Education, Human Services and Labor and Industry to work together with other Commonwealth agencies to develop a written plan to address the implementation of the Employment First policy.
This Order is thanks to the efforts of state-wide advocates for individuals with disabilities, in particular 21 and Able of the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. The 21 and Able initiative’s goal has been to increase the opportunities for individuals with disabilities who graduate from the school environment. The Governor’s goal of increasing the number of Pennsylvanians with a disability employed in competitive integrated jobs is a big step in creating opportunities for individuals during and after high school.
If you have a question about advocacy or future planning for an individual with a disability, please contact Jillian F. Zacks of Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky’s Estates and Trust Practice Group in Pittsburgh at firstname.lastname@example.org or (412) 281-5423.